Friday, March 20, 2015

"Senseless Violence" (again) [7 May 2014 / 20 March 2015]

       On a warm evening in March 2015, I heard shots from the park behind my apartment and thought I might report them, but, then the park behind my apartment abuts on the Port Hueneme government building, which includes our police station — Port Hueneme, CA, is a very small town — and if I heard the shots, so did the cops.

         Violence is a  bit more usual in our relatively big-city neighbor, Oxnard.

         On 7 May 2014, the editorial board of the my local newspaper argued that "Street Violence [in Oxnard] calls for more positive moves." I have a suggestion here.

            The editorial refers to "Mr. [Ruben] Alfaro’s senseless death," and the use of "senseless" quotes Oxnard's Police Chief and is correct in moral terms: Mr. Alfaro was shot while "he innocently sat in a van parked outside his Oxnard home." For the solution of this crime, however, and for public policy, the authorities need to work out how it made sense to the shooter to yell "out a gang name" and fire "a single shot" in what may not have been some random event but, the Oxnard cops believe, a "gang-related" killing. 
            There are crimes of passion and random horrors, but some violence, including murders, does make sense: somebody seeks vengeance or other rough justice. Or the violence is "instrumental": a rational means to achieve a goal — eliminating an enemy, killing a witness — just evil.

            With work, luck, and time, the police will figure out who had the means, opportunity, and motive for this murder. There’s a larger question, though, for public policy.

            Crimes of passion happen, and the best society can do is keep more people sane and skilled in resolving conflicts with minimal violence. We need on the streets fewer guns and fewer nut-jobs. However, there are cases where sane young men kill people because it makes sense to them: murder as rational, but evil. 

            War can be politics "by other means",  and gang violence can be "capitalism by other means" and the violence instrumental: as in the GODFATHER movies, "just Business." We Americans need to reduce senseless crime, but — whatever the facts turn out to be with Ruben Alfaro's death — we need to do much more to eliminate situations where crime makes sense.

            We need to do a better job instilling moral codes and punishing harmful acts; we also need to offer young men opportunities for "business" where they can succeed in the world without blowing away other people.

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